Every Last Breath (The Dark Elements 3) - Page 69

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“I’m not?”

He shook his head. “No, little one. If you’re standing here, you’re not.”

Confusion swamped me. “That’s...good news.”

Nicolai choked out a laugh, and my gaze wandered over his shoulder. I saw Geoff standing in the doorway, and Danika was halfway down the steps, her mouth forming a perfect O.

My gaze swung back to his. “I don’t know what happened.”

He nodded, and then stepped away so that he stood beside me, curving his arm around my shoulders. “Let’s get you inside and we’ll figure this out.”

I didn’t argue with him as he led me up the steps and into the blessed warmth of the house. Everything seemed the same as it had the last time I’d been here, right after Abbot had passed, except it felt like years since I’d crossed the threshold.

Nicolai guided me into the sitting room, the very same one I’d sat in so many times. He placed me on the couch. “I’m going to grab Jasmine.”

I wanted to tell him that I was okay, but he was gone before I could say a word, and then Danika was there, draping a heavy quilt over my shoulders. I grasped the edges of the quilt with numb fingers. “Thank you.”

She knelt in front of me, shaking her head. Her mouth opened, and then she rose quickly, backing off. Without even looking up, I knew why she’d retreated.

Zayne was there, on his knees in front of me. He shared the same awestruck expression that Nicolai and the rest of the Wardens wore. His mouth worked, but there were no words.

“Hi?” I croaked out again, proving once more that I was the lamest when it came to speaking in general.

“How are you here?” He grasped my knees, his grip tight as he leaned forward. The fresh winter-mint scent surrounded me, but it didn’t fill me with yearning like it used to. No, now it was like being wrapped in a blanket of familiarity. It was bittersweet, still powerful, yet ultimately no longer the source of my longing.

“She doesn’t know,” Nicolai answered from the doorway.

Glancing up, I saw that he wasn’t alone. Dez was there and Jasmine was brushing past them, heading straight for us.

“Did you...?” Zayne didn’t take his eyes off me.

At first I thought he was talking to me, but it was Dez who answered. “Yes. A few seconds ago.”

Before I could ask what they were talking about, Zayne said, “Layla, what happened?”

I cleared my throat, figuring it was time for me to actually string together more than a few words. “I don’t know. I met up with the Lilin and I...”

“You killed him,” he finished for me, his expression tensing. “You killed yourself, Layla.”

“I had to, Zayne. It was the only way, but I’m not so sure if I succeeded now.” I glanced at Jasmine as she sat beside me on the couch. “I really think I’m okay.”

Jasmine smiled warmly. “I just want to make sure, all right?”

“The front of your sweater is covered with blood,” Zayne reasoned. “Let her look. Please?”

Exhaling slowly, I nodded and let Jasmine check me out as Zayne rose stiffly. He seemed to lean toward me at first, but stepped away. There was a weight on his shoulders that hadn’t been there before as he stood above us. I wondered if it was because he would take over the clan in a few short years, or because of what had happened with us.

“You killed the Lilin,” Zayne said after a moment. “The Alphas told us that the Lilin was dead. They pulled back—no longer threatening to wipe out all of us. That’s how we knew something happened—that something had to have happened to you.”

Jasmine tugged the quilt closer around my shoulders as she finished checking me out. “She’s fine,” she said to Zayne. “From what I can see. No wounds.”

Zayne lifted a hand, scrubbing his hand through his hair. “When Roth showed up, we knew.” His voice was rough, and my heart squeezed like someone had dropped it into a juicer. “He said you left in the middle of the night without him. I... I don’t even know why he came here, what he thought we could do for him. He said that one of his contacts had confirmed that you...that you’d done it. Roth was...” His brows knitted together as he looked away. “We had a funeral for you, Layla.”

My stomach dropped. “You did what?”

“You were gone. There was no body.” Nicolai frowned from the doorway, and I suddenly felt like hurling because he was talking about my body. “But we knew you were gone and I...we had to give you that rite, after what you sacrificed.”

Great guacamole, I had no idea what to think about that. I missed my own funeral! Well, if I’d been dead, dead I would’ve missed my funeral anyways. “That seems a little quick,” I said finally.

Zayne stepped toward me, his expression severe. “Layla, it wasn’t quick. You’ve been gone for six days. The funeral was two days ago.”

“Six days?” My eyes widened. “It couldn’t have been six days. It was just last night...” I trailed off, remembering what Roth had said about time moving differently down below. The disconnect had happened when I went down to see Grim. Though I didn’t think I’d gone to Hell this time. I had a feeling I had been in something more like a waiting room of sorts. Time must’ve moved slowly then, too. I shook my head and cool, damp hair clung to my cheeks. “I thought I died. I was in this place and I saw—”

A commotion rose from the hallway, cutting me off. I looked up as Jasmine rose from the couch. A rush of warm tingles tiptoed across the nape of my neck. Nicolai turned and I saw Dez step to the side, away from the room.

“It’s him,” Dez said softly.

I was standing before I realized what I was doing, the blanket slipping off my shoulders. My senses started coming online, firing all at once. Shivers raced up and down my spine.

My heart stuttered, and then skipped a beat as a tall form parted the Wardens crowding the door. Messy raven-colored hair fell forward into ocher eyes that were deeply shadowed.

Wrinkles clung to the black shirt he wore. It looked like he’d slept in it for days, as did the dark jeans. The laces on his boots were untied. He was a mess, every inch of him, but he was still the most striking thing I’d ever seen.

Roth strode into the room, stopping halfway. His full lips parted, and I caught a quick glimpse of light reflecting off the metal ball. Our gazes locked, and it was like the world around us just slipped away. It was only him and me, and I didn’t remember moving and I didn’t see him move either, but in a heartbeat, I was standing before Roth, staring up at him.

“Layla?” His voice cracked halfway through my name. He reached out, clasping my cheeks with hands that shook. A shock jumped from his skin to mine.

Tears filled my eyes as I inhaled deeply. The sweet, dark scent of his settled over me. In that very moment, there was no lingering doubt in my mind that I was alive and this wasn’t some kind of bizarre hallucination.

“I’m here,” I whispered as the tears broke free. “I’m really here.”

Roth’s hands slipped off my cheeks, and then his arms were around me. He hauled me up against his chest, onto the tips of my toes as he buried his face in the crook of my neck. He staggered back a step, and I guessed his legs had given out, because the next thing I knew, he was on his ass and I was straddling his lap, my knees on either side of his hips.


Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout The Dark Elements Fantasy
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